District regains accreditation, is put on probation

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DECATUR, Ga. --- Clayton County schools have regained accreditation, albeit on a probationary basis.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools announced it would grant the school system probationary accreditation Friday -- eight months to the day after the nationally recognized agency made Clayton County schools a rare example of a school district losing its accreditation.

"The special review team made a recommendation to the AdvancED accreditation commission to reinstate the accreditation of Clayton County public schools," agency head Mark Elgart said at a news conference, as school board members burst into applause.

The district's status of "accreditation on probation" means that for the next two school years, officials must submit a progress report to AdvancED, a coalition of accrediting agencies which includes SACS.

The district also must hold monitoring team reviews to assess the school system's progress.

Should problems resurface, Mr. Elgart said the district could again lose accreditation.

"If that occurs," he said, "the journey toward reaccreditation could be far longer."

The district also must hold a systemwide visit of all of its schools by Dec. 1, 2010.

The school district lost accreditation in the wake of a scathing February 2008 report, which called the school board "dysfunctional" and "fatally flawed."

The district met only one of nine mandates laid out in that report.

Since then, the district of more than 48,000 students has put an entirely new school board in place and revamped dozens of policies.

On Friday, SACS officials applauded the district for several improvements, among them, adopting a new ethics policy.

School board chairwoman Alieka Anderson said the district would continue to improve.

"Our board of education is moving forward," she said. "We will not take this lightly."

The restored badge of approval paves the way for the 59-school district to regain millions in state and federal funds lost after an exodus of about 3,000 students.

The reaccreditation also means 2,384 seniors expected to graduate this month will do so with accredited diplomas.

High-schoolers who graduated with unaccredited diplomas risked losing out on scholarships and admission at many colleges.

Clayton County resident Richard Penny said though he pulled his twin sons out of county schools to finish their senior year at a private in- stitution, Friday's announcement meant he would send his seventh-grader to county schools in a few years.

He thought other parents would do the same.

"I think over a period of time that the confidence can be restored," he said. "But it's gonna take hard work."

SACS officials put Clayton County on probation in 2003 for similar issues, but the problems were resolved and a new board elected.

The agency launched an inves- tigation just before Christmas after board members began filing grievances against each other with SACS.

BACKGROUND: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools officials stripped the Clayton County district of its accreditation on Sept. 1 after a February 2008 report called the school board "dysfunctional" and "fatally flawed." SACS accused school board members of meddling in the day-to-day operations of the schools, frequently squabbling publicly and berating staff members during meetings.

RESULT OF THE LOSS:

- Parents swiftly withdrew thousands of students.

- Early estimates anticipated the district would face a combined loss of about $33 million in state and federal funds because of the shrinking student body.

- The district quickly adopted a plan to hire an internal auditor, appoint a rules expert for board meetings and overhaul its superintendent's contract.

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